Governor Charlie Baker declined to say Thursday whether he would veto legislation approved by the state Legislature that omits his administration’s plans for containing state health care costs.
By wide margins, lawmakers Wednesday passed a measure to impose new fees on employers to help fund the state Medicaid program, called MassHealth. But they rebuffed Baker’s proposals for containing MassHealth costs, in part by shifting some low-income adults off of the program.
The governor had asked legislators to approve his cost-saving measures along with the new fees on businesses, which would raise an estimated $200 million in the fiscal year that began this month. Business groups oppose paying extra fees unless the state also takes steps to tackle costs.
Baker told reporters at the State House that he wanted to continue working with the Legislature on health care.
“I fully expect that we’re going to continue to talk to them about this this summer and into the fall,” Baker said. “And I hope we can reach some reasonable accommodations and make sure everybody in Massachusetts continues to have health care coverage, which is something we started doing long before anybody else.
“But at the same time, we need to do this in a way that’s sustainable,” he added.
The costs of MassHealth have soared in recent years, amounting to about $16 billion a year, which is split between the state and federal governments.
The governor didn’t say what he would do with the bill before him: “I’ll take a look at it when it gets to my desk, and then we’ll make a decision.”
He could accept or veto the bill. If he vetoes it, the Legislature has enough votes to override. If Baker does nothing for 10 days, the legislation would go into effect as is.
The House and Senate are expected to be on recess for much of the next several weeks. They would have to call formal sessions in order to vote.
Last month, Baker administration officials asked lawmakers to approve several proposals to help rein in state medical spending, but lawmakers said they didn’t have enough time to debate the complex set of proposals. They also balked at making significant changes to state health policy when Republicans in Congress are trying to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act.
MassHealth provides benefits to 1.9 million people in the state. Baker’s plan would move 140,000 adults, including 100,000 parents, from MassHealth onto commercial health plans.
These adults would not have to pay premiums, but they would have higher out-of-pocket costs — on average, about 3 percent of their income. They also would have to pay extra for dental benefits, which are included in MassHealth. Those who received dental care at community health centers could be reimbursed.
Baker also wants to bar many low-income adults from obtaining MassHealth if they have access to affordable coverage from their employers.
Administration officials have warned that the changes are necessary to keep state spending in balance. But health care advocates and Democrats argued that the administration’s plan would hurt low-income families.
Republicans and business groups, meanwhile, call the proposals reasonable and necessary to contain costs. Business groups have said they will press Baker to veto the Legislature’s decision to charge new fees without curbing MassHealth costs.